Thursday, November 27, 2014

Arkansas 2014: Day 2...

DAY 2: Sunrise from Grandview Vista, Cossatot River, Highway 278, and Sunset at Lake Wilhelmina.

The sun was set to rise around 6:45 that morning. I woke up around 5:45 got my gear together, grabbed the keys, and headed back to the Talimena Scenic Byway. I was hoping to catch the sunrise hitting the mountains and possibly capture the setting moon in the same shot. I really underestimated how great the view to the east is up on the mountain. While driving up the mountain I would look back in my rear view mirror and see a giant red ball over the horizon. It was so amazing. I really REALLY wanted to stop, but I didn't want to miss opportunity to capture the sunrise at Grandview vista. I pressed forward and would occasionally glimpse back in the rearview mirror catching sunrise behind me. I arrived to Grandview vista and the light was just starting to hit the mountains. To make things even better there was a thin layer of fog in the valleys and near full moon descending to the west. 
Without a doubt, the best view of the byway. We are looking south and the sun over to our left just now rising over the mountains. I had hoped we would see some dramatic light.

A thin layer of fog down in the valleys.

And a thick layer of fog over Lake Wilhelmina. We would return to the lake later that evening for sunset photos. 

A near full moon setting to the west.

I also tried some telephoto landscape photography. 

This is looking off to the northeast from Acorn Vista.

Thirteen image panorama of the Grandview vista sunrise.

It certainly was a great start to the day. I drive back to Mena to meet up with my mother and plan for the rest of the day. We're sitting around trying to decide when we would like to leave for Texas. I was planning to leave around 3:00pm and that would get us home around 8:00pm that night. I had work the next morning and I was sure my mom didn't want to drive that far that late at night. My mom was looking through a local brochure and mentioned something about the Cossatot River State Park. We settled on that for a late morning/early afternoon field trip. It was only 30min from Mena and when we finished we could go back to Mena for a late lunch and head on home. Like many of the places in AR we were once again creeping on dirt and gravel roads to get to our destination. Along the way we saw some colorful foliage and some nice landscapes, but mostly it was winding dirt roads and tall slender trees blocking out our view.. We finally arrived at the upper Cossatot River region. Specifically we were looking for the rapids in the river on this particular outing. The river was not at its highest state so the rapids were not that impressive, but I still came back with some great shots.

Upper Cossatot River near Cossatot falls.

Some of the nice fall foliage we encountered on a short hike.

The only "rapids" I was able to photograph. I had to climb over several rocks and hopscotch my way to an isolated piece of dry land to get this shot. Judging by the smoothness of the rocks and the striations, I imagine the river can get to much higher levels and intensity. 

More fall colors. 

View of the lower Cossatot river from Highway 278. We stopped in the middle of the road to get this shot. Luckily, there was no other traffic around us. 
Once we finished hanging around and exploring the upper region of the river we drove to the visitor center,(which was really nice) and made our way to the low water crossing of the river. This was actually a little better, I was able to see some decent movement in the water and with the use of my vari ND filter I was able to slow my shutterpeed down to 3 seconds creating a soft silky look to the water.

Getting longer exposures in bright sunny daylight can be a challenge without the use of filters. I used my vari ND filter to decrease my shutterspeed and blur the movement of the water.

7 image panorama of the lower  Cossatot River. 
All along the river we saw some really nice foliage and naturally I had to take some close up shots.

We left the Cossatot River around 1:30 and headed back to Mena to get some lunch before driving home. We drove west along highway 278 which was almost entirely surrounded by trees. At one point outside of Wickes, AR there was a break in the forest. The land sloped down where a long line of hay bales were resting halfway across the field. Behind the hay was a cluster of changing fall leaves and just above the treeline the distant craggy peaks of the Ouachita mountains could be seen. I really liked this composition, I just wished the light would have been better. We pulled off near the Duckett cemetery to photograph the landscape.

I had to stay near the top of the hill. The further I went down the more the treeline would cover up the mountains.

15 image panorama of this wonderful scene. The original is sized at 100"wide by 14.5" tall!!!
After I was happy with a couple of frames we drove back to Mena and had a late lunch at a place called the Branding Iron (not to be confused with our local restaurant). The place was quite nice and the food was really good. We filled our bellies and started off for home. But before we left I wanted to get one more shot. I wanted to get some photos at sunset of Rich mountain reflecting in Lake Wilhelmina. We pulled up and found a nice spot to get the mountains reflecting in the lake.
Found a great location in a more still part of the lake. This would be perfect for some long exposure photography.

Beautiful light and reflections of the nearby woods.

If you look real closely you will see a structure on the top of the mountain. This is the Queen Wilhelmina lodge as seen from lake Wilhelmina. We stopped by this location, but there were easily 100+ people when we arrived. We decided to just keep driving. 

Wider view of the lake.

Beautiful light hitting the face of Rich Mountain.

Stunning sunset that evening and a great opportunity to use some long exposure to get a near perfect reflection in the waters. I couldn't think of a more perfect way to end the trip.

We made the drive home and I arrived at my apartment around 11:30pm. It really was a unique experience. I have been through Arkansas before on the way to Indiana for family reunions. I never had the opportunity to explore the mountains and forests of the state. Thanks to my mom for tagging along and doing all the driving. I have to say it is truly a beautiful place and a well spent vacation. I hope to one day return to the Ouachita Mounatins again.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Arkansas 2014: Day 1...

A few weekends ago I made a trip out to western Arkansas in pursuit of some colorful fall foliage. I had seen through researching the Internet that the Talimena National Scenic Byway was supposed to have beautiful autumn colors—and it did not disappoint. The Talimena Scenic Byway runs from Talahina, OK to Mena, AR for a little over 50miles. A snaky, curving road sits on the crest of Winding Stair Mountain (OK) and Rich Mountain (AR).

Map of the Talimena National Scenic Byway
 Rich Mountain is the second tallest peak in AR at 2,681ft above sea level, only to be beaten by Mt Magazine (2,753 ft) in the Ozark Mountains. Winding Stair Mountain and Rich mountain are part of the Ouachita Mountain Chain. The Ouachita Mountains are what's known as “fold mountains”. When the South America plate collided with the Earth's crust it caused the crust to buckle. This convergence folded the crust into roll and wave shapes, forming the Ouachita mountains.

Satellite image of the Ouachita Mountain chain (NASA)
Unlike most other mountain chains, the Ouachita mountains run east and west rather than north and south. From the byway you have a great view of the rolling mountains and sunken valleys below. The byway meets with the Ouachita National Forest a nearly 1.8 million acre forest. Oak, pine, maple, hickory, and walnut trees line up around the byway and during the autumn months the forest explodes in hues of reds, oranges, and golds. 

We planned out our trip and hoped we would be in or near peak color by the weekend. My mother accompanied me on the trip and we left Friday evening around 6:00pm. Our destination for Friday was McAlester, OK. This was a good base point, as we were only an hour drive from Talahina, OK, the western entrance to the byway. We got up at 6:30am and planned to leave around 7:30 am. When we left McAlester, OK high clouds were blocking out the eastern horizon and I was worried we wouldn't have good light for pictures. Clouds blocking out the sun would make the landscape appear flat and the colors dull. But we pressed on in hopes the sun would begin to burn off all the clouds as the temperatures increased.

 DAY 1: Talimena Scenic Drive, Little Missouri Falls, and Crooked Creek Falls

Western Entrance to the Talimena National Scenic Byway.

We arrived to the entrance of the Talimena National Scenic Byway close to 8:30am. We pulled into the visitor center to get a map and information about sights along the byway. The Talimena Scenic Byway offers 22 vistas of the forest and mountains and with the second tallest peak in Arkansas we should see some beautiful panoramic views.

Choctaw Vista:

Not long after we started the drive there was a pull off for the Choctaw Vista. This particular vista had a lot of changing fall foliage.

View from Choctaw Vista
Potato Hills Vista:

The Potato Hills Vista gets its name from the hills down below. They resemble mounds they use to plant potatoes.

Holson Valley Vista:
Very scenic view from Holson Valley Vista

There were some spectacular views of the changing forest in this area, but no vistas to pull over. We found a spot off the shoulder and I walked out to capture these beautiful scenes. 

One of my favorite shots of the byway.
And of course I had to stop and get some close up shots of the foliage.

Panorama Vista: 
One of the better views of the drive Panorama Vista pulls off to a 360 degree view of the mountains and forest.

Scenes like this are all over the byway. The road is lined with beautiful fall foliage.

Deadman Vista:

The origin behind the name is now lost, but some say they found a man's body in this area, hence the name Deadman Vista.

Boundary marker to the Ouachita National Forest.

Sugarloaf Vista: 

This was one of my favorite vistas. The colors of the leaves were phenomenal!

Out in the distance you can see Sugarloaf mountain, the mountain the vista is named after.

Lenox Vista:

Lenox Vista was another photogenic location. The dominant ridge in the background is named Lenox Ridge. Behind the ridge is the small town of Lenox, AR.I really liked how the ridge was speckled with areas of changing leaves

Cedar Lake Vista: 

The beautiful Cedar Lake Vista.

Here's a wider shot showing all the waves and ridges of the Ouachita's.

Shawnee Vista: 

Shawnee vista was another great view. If you look off in the distance you can see the rolling hills that are the focal point of the next stop.
Emerald Vista:

Spectacular view from Emerald Vista. The sun was just starting to break through the clouds at this point and generated some great light on the landscape.

Big Cedar Vista:

The appropriately named Big Cedar Vista didn't offer a wide panorama view because of the dense cover a large Cedar trees.
Sunset Point Vista: 

We are now at the western most end of Rich Mountain. This would be a great spot to watch the sun set below the mountains.
This large cluster of smooth rock are what's known as rock glaciers. Some of the special plants in this habitat are found nowhere else in the world.

Kiamichi Valley Vista:

A nice view of Kiamichi mountain to our south.

Chaha Vista:

Here is another favorite shot of mine. This was captured at the Chaha Vista. Chaha comes from the word Choctaw which means "mountain high than others".
Mountain Fork Vista: 

Up until this point we were in the far reaches of eastern, OK. Not far from the border was Mountain Fork vista and our first miles in Arkansas territory.

Rich Mountain Fire Tower:

We came to a turn off called "Tower Rd" driving down this narrow one lane road we entered the Rich Mountain Fire Tower Picnic Area. We are now at the tallest peak of Rich Mountain at 2,681 feet above sea level. 

Grandview Vista: 

The aptly named Grandview vista had a great view of the rolling mountains to the south. I was planning to return to this location for sunrise photos the next morning. 

Eagleton Vista:

Round Mountain: 

Round Mountain.

Acorn Vista:

Below the mountain is the community of Acorn. It was named after the acorn shape of the field in the valley. I personally didn't see it, but they say its best viewed during the spring months.

Blue Haze Vista:

Last vista before getting to Mena, AR.

The Talimena National Scenic Byway was really a beautiful experience. I had found a great spot to return to for the next morning's sunrise. We stopped in Mena, AR and got some gas and had a very quick lunch. We were now heading to the southeast and deeper into the Ouachita forest. We were looking for a place called Little Missouri Falls National Recreation Area. The Little Missouri River flows through the Ouachita forest and cascades into a moderate waterfall near the upper reaches of the river. We had to traverse some rough dirt and gravel roads to get to the falls. It was rough going in my mother's Volkswagen Bug, but eventually we made it. We arrived at the parking lot around 4:00pm with not a whole lot of light left at this point. This was the only part of the trip I was disappointed with. The falls were very nice and I had some good light, but being a weekend, I did have trouble with other tourists. There was a family of 15 people who didn't care I was taking photos of the falls. I struggled to move around them and get some isolated shots of the waterfalls. Me and two other local photographers danced and hopped around the rocks to capture the Little Missouri. One of the photographers told me about another waterfall close by (one I was planning on going to and had researched before the trip).

Cascades at Little Missouri Falls 

Looking at the falls head on.

I believe this is my favorite shot from the location.

We decided to leave and head towards a less populated area. Through Google Earth I was able to locate another photogenic waterfall close by. This waterfall was actually in some one's campsite. We pulled off another gravely dirt road in the Caney Creek Wilderness Area. I informed them I would be passing through to capture some images of the waterfall. I made the small climb down to the falls but everything around the falls was slate—and very slippery with wet hiking boots. I carefully navigated the rocks and got into a position where I could see the falls.

And a beautiful fall it was!

The falls actually continues down another ten feet, but in order to get that in  the frame I would need to be in the creek. Something I really didn't want to do. 

This was shot with my Nikkor 18-35mm ED lens at 18mm. I was just at the edge of the water. Despite falling and scraping up my left hand it was a great way to end the day!


After I was satisfied with the photos I climbed back up to the car and we made the drive back to Mena, AR. It was time to grab some dinner and get some rest. I was planning to get up early the next morning and catch the sunrise at Grandview vista on the byway. I transferred the photos from the days shoot to my laptop and went to bed. Tomorrow was going to be another great day.

I'll have Day 2 uploaded next week. 

Thank you for the support.


About Me

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I am 25 years old and I have been a photographer for 11 years now. I love nothing more than taking my camera out on a photo shoot with me. I mainly focus on nature photography.That is where my passion is. I love looking at all of God's wonderful creations and capturing them in the photographic medium. I have won awards and have received special recognition for my photography. It is my calling and my passion!